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Sarah is Safeguarding Manager at School-Home Support and previously worked as a primary school teacher and Deputy Headteacher.

This week, thousands of children will be returning to school after the Christmas break. Going back to school will be an exciting time for some children, who will be looking forward to seeing their friends and getting back to learning. However, for children who struggle to attend, the return to school might be daunting.

The back-to-school period can be a difficult time for parents too. Parents play a key role in helping children to return to the classroom. Parents often know best what their children need, but they can’t do it alone. It is vital that schools and parents can work together to understand and overcome the reasons that are behind their child’s reluctance.

Every child is different. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to improving school attendance. And there are no quick fixes either. Improving a child’s relationship with school can take time and it is essential that schools and parents work in partnership to support those who are struggling to get back to the classroom.

Here are 10 top tips for parents of children who struggle to attend and are worried about the return to school:

  1. Listen to your child’s worries and let them think of solutions. How do they think they can deal with this? What can they do to make it better? Empower them to develop the strategies to overcome their own worries.
  2. If there are problems, make sure the school knows what’s going on as soon as possible. Find out the best point of contact at your child’s school, whether that’s their class teacher, Head of Year, SENCO, or Family Support Worker, and keep them updated.
  3. Make a list of the ways you think the school could best support your child to return to school. As their parent, you know your child best.If your child feels unable to go to school, you know that you can’t force them. However, you are best placed to understand why that might be, and to communicate that to their school.
  4. Reassure your child that feeling nervous or anxious is totally normal. Going back to the school routine can be daunting for some who may feel overwhelmed, so it’s understandable that they have some worries.
  5. Build a calming night time routine. Limiting time on social media and electronics the night before can reduce worries about school before going to sleep.
  6. Prepare something to look forward to after the first week back. This could be their favourite meal or a movie night, or simply a treat at the end of the school day.
  7. If you have your own worries, be open with the school about them and seek support. They might not always be able to help, but could signpost you to other services.
  8. Gently prepare for the first day back in advance. The first week back of a new term is an important moment to reset routines around school attendance. You can use the holidays to start to prepare for the return to school. Practice getting up early for a day or two before school starts, check the bus timetables and discuss lunch arrangements – all of this will reduce anxious feelings that can come up the night before term starts.
  9. Practice the journey to school over the holidays. Make sure they feel comfortable with the route to school so that it feels familiar, and there are no surprises on their first day back after half-term.
  10. Get everything ready Make sure that all the back-to-school essentials are ready to make it less of an ordeal when it’s time to getting everything ready so it’s not a panic and normalises the event.

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